Sports Outside the Beltway

2009 NFL Mock Draft

With the 2008 NFL Draft in the books, draft grades already turned in, and long months ahead before the first meaningful — or even meaningless — games, what’s an NFL fan to do? Start thinking about the 2009 draft, of course.

Scouts, Inc.’s Todd McShay looks ahead:

1. Atlanta Falcons — Fili Moala, DT, USC
Atlanta finally gets its playmaking interior defensive lineman. Moala has flown under the radar to this point but he should emerge from the shadow of 2008 No. 7 overall pick Sedrick Ellis and become one of the elite defenders in college football this fall.

2. Detroit Lions — Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech
Coach Rod Marinelli’s defense is predicated on speed up front, and Johnson is blessed with plenty of that. Johnson was overlooked while playing in a rotation last season, but it won’t take long for the rangy edge-rusher to make his mark in 2008.

3. Kansas City Chiefs — Matt Stafford*, QB, Georgia
Another injury-plagued and disappointing season out of fragile QB Brodie Croyle will force the Chiefs to address the position with this high draft pick in 2009. If the supremely talented Stafford continues to progress as he did last fall, he could easily emerge as a top-five pick next April.

4. Miami Dolphins — Al Woods, DT, LSU
At 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, Woods is a physically imposing defensive tackle with enough size and strength to anchor the middle of a 3-4 defense.

5. Cincinnati Bengals — Sen’Derrick Marks*, DT, Auburn
The Bengals got shut out in their pursuit of an elite defensive tackle in this year’s draft, but 2009 will be more kind. Marks is an undersized playmaker with the first-step quickness to disrupt as a 3-technique tackle, which is exactly what Marvin Lewis’ defense needs along its front.

6. Oakland Raiders — Andre Smith*, OT, Alabama
Smith stepped in immediately as the Tide’s starting left tackle and continues to improve with more coaching and game experience. The Raiders could enlist a player with his kind of skills to take care of their most recent first-round investments in QB JaMarcus Russell and RB Darren McFadden.

7. Chicago Bears — Tim Tebow*, QB, Florida
It’s almost certain that the Bears will need a quarterback come next offseason. Unfortunately, next year’s crop of signal-callers does not look promising at this point. Bears fans won’t be thrilled if the team uses a high pick on another Gators quarterback following the failed Rex Grossman experiment, but Tebow’s unique blend of skills and rare intangibles might be too good to pass up. Should Tebow elect to leave school early, however, his uncommon skill set could make him the most difficult prospect at any position to grade.

8. San Francisco 49ers — Michael Oher, OT, Mississippi
Oher, who possesses the size and athletic ability to develop into an upper-echelon starting tackle in the NFL, would make an ideal bookend opposite 2007 first-rounder Joe Staley.

9. St. Louis Rams — Rey Maualuga, ILB, USC
Maualuga is the top senior prospect on my 2009 draft board at this insanely early point in the process, although he wouldn’t be the first senior off the board. I’ve never seen a defensive player take over a game the way Maualuga did versus Illinois in the Rose Bowl, and his recognition skills are clearly catching up with his rare physical tools.

10. New York Jets — Knowshon Moreno*, RB, Georgia
Moreno burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2007 and he should build on that momentum as a first-year starter behind a more mature offensive line during the upcoming season. The Jets were not able to land McFadden in this year’s draft but Moreno would be worth the wait if he’s available in 2009.

11. Tennessee Titans — Michael Crabtree*, WR, Texas Tech
Do not pigeonhole Crabtree; he’s not just a product of coach Mike Leach’s pass-crazy offense. The tall, long-armed receiver could be the go-to-target QB Vince Young so desperately needs.

12. Houston Texans — Malcolm Jenkins, CB, Ohio State
Jenkins made a wise decision to return as a senior. He needs to improve his footwork and overall man-to-man cover skills to prove to scouts he’s capable of playing corner in any scheme at the next level. Regardless, the Texans could use his ball-hawking skills in their secondary, no matter whether it’s at cornerback or safety.

13. Denver Broncos — James Laurinaitis, ILB, Ohio State
Laurinaitis surprised many NFL scouts when he elected to return to Columbus for his senior season. Assuming he continues to make progress in 2008, there’s no reason to believe he will fall out of the top 20 picks in next year’s draft. The instinctive, high-motor inside linebacker would be a nice addition to a Denver defense in search of more stout defenders up the middle.

14. Baltimore Ravens — Vontae Davis, CB, Illinois
The Ravens need an upgrade at corner and a young playmaker like Davis, who possesses rare athleticism for his size, would be an ideal fit.

15. Philadelphia Eagles (from CAR) — Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Maryland
The Eagles failed to land a go-to-receiver in the 2008 draft (no, DeSean Jackson does not qualify). Instead of going the free-agent route to land a weapon for veteran QB Donovan McNabb, they might as well use one of two first-round picks in ’09 on a future primary target for future QB Kevin Kolb.

16. Arizona Cardinals — LeSean McCoy*, RB, Pittsburgh
After Arizona failed to find a complement for Edgerrin James in this year’s draft, the Cardinals’ need at running back will be far more pressing in the spring of ’09. McCoy is a supremely talented sophomore who is draft eligible after spending a year in prep school, and he is reportedly already eyeing the 2009 draft.

17. Buffalo Bills — Travis Beckum, TE, Wisconsin
Beckum could emerge as a top-20 pick if he can add 10-15 pounds to his frame while maintaining his big-play ability as a receiver during his senior season.

18. Philadelphia Eagles — Phil Loadholt, OT, Oklahoma
After failing to land one of the record-setting seven offensive tackles selected in the first round of this year’s draft, coach Andy Reid will be craving a big fella like Loadholt in 2009.

19. Washington Redskins — Greg Hardy*, DE, Mississippi
Hardy is flying under the radar right now despite notching 10 solo sacks the past two seasons, and the Redskins will be looking for a young pass-rushing threat after failing to land one during the latest draft.

20. Minnesota Vikings — Percy Harvin*, WR/RS, Florida
Staying healthy for a full season would all but guarantee Harvin a spot in the first round of the NFL draft, either next year or in 2010.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Ciron Black, OT, LSU
The Bucs will be looking to enlist the services of a talented left tackle prospect such as Black, who displays quick feet for a 6-5, 315-pounder.

22. Green Bay Packers — Max Unger, OT, Oregon
Unger, who projects as a first-day pick in next year’s draft, is the type of versatile lineman the Packers typically covet.

23. Cleveland Browns — Ricky Sapp, DE/OLB, Clemson
Sapp is an up-and-coming talent with outstanding speed and pass-rushing potential. He should fit perfectly as a rush linebacker in a 3-4 scheme like the one employed in Cleveland.

24. Seattle Seahawks — Duke Robinson, G, Oklahoma
The Seahawks are still looking for a long-term solution at left guard, so why not use this pick on the player who is at this point the top prospect at that position.

25. Pittsburgh Steelers — Tyson Jackson, DE, LSU
Jackson is among the elite senior defensive prospects right now but that might not hold up for 12 full months, as he’s simply not a great fit for every team’s defensive scheme. At 6-5 and 290, Jackson is best suited to play defensive end in a three-man front like the one employed in Pittsburgh.

26. New Orleans Saints — Gerald McRath, OLB, Southern Miss
The Saints will be looking for an injection of youth and athleticism at linebacker and the speedy, undersized McRath falls in line with that objective.

27. New York Giants — Brandon Spikes, ILB, Florida
The Giants could use a quick and powerful tackling machine like Spikes after failing to address that need early in the 2008 draft.

28. Jacksonville Jaguars — William Moore, S, Missouri
Moore emerged as a playmaking machine in 2007, when he notched 114 tackles and eight interceptions. At 6-1 and 215 pounds he could be the versatile strong safety Jacksonville needs opposite FS Reggie Nelson.

29. Indianapolis Colts — Vance Walker, DT/DE, Georgia Tech
Walker has the right blend of tools to provide depth along the interior of Indianapolis’ quick-but-undersized defensive line.

30. San Diego Chargers — Auston English, DE/OLB, Oklahoma
English is an instinctive, high-motor player with very good speed and fluid hips for a young defensive end. He already has experience dropping into coverage on zone-blitz looks within Oklahoma’s complex defensive scheme.

31. Dallas Cowboys — Demetrius Byrd, WR, LSU
Wide receiver is the one area Dallas did not address during an otherwise promising 2008 draft. Byrd has a lot to prove as a senior but he certainly has the blend of size and deep speed it takes to emerge as a first-round draft pick.

32. New England Patriots — Brian Cushing, OLB, USC
The Patriots continue a recent trend of drafting linebackers by using this selection on the versatile Cushing. The 6-5, 248-pounder has experience on the strong side and as a rush linebacker, which will be attractive to a New England coaching staff that likes versatility in its linebackers.

This, of course, is a silly exercise, in that we don’t know how the 2008 NFL season is going to turn out, which means we don’t know what order teams will pick, and that college players rise and fall dramatically over the course of a year. Brian Brohm, for example, went from a probably first overall selection to a mid-2nd rounder. But, hey, it’s entertaining if nothing else.

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